Keith's Crappy Videogame Blog

Steam Slug (PC, 2009, Poland): A Steaming Pile of Videogame
November 2, 2011, 12:58 am
Filed under: Steam Slug (PC, 2009, Russia)

Did I just play this garbage? Oh, right. I did. You know, I feel like someone owes me a free drink, or a meal, or an apology.

Openoko Entertainment has a fascinating business model. Clearly their aim is to take some of the most badly reviewed, poorly performing, generally reviled western videogame titles and remake them for an eastern European audience.

I said it was a fascinating business model, not a good one.

Of course, I’m coming to this assumption having only played two Openoko games, but they both fit into this business plan perfectly. The first was “Evil Resistance: Morning of the Dead” (2008), otherwise known as “Moscow and the Dead”–read my discussion of it here. With that title, Openoko paid tribute to the glorious western hit “Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green” (2005). Yes, that’s sarcasm you hear. And to solidify their place as the premiere eastern European purveyors of the worst western games known to players, Openoko also decided to reimagine the critically acclaimed steampunk-Unreal-mod-gone-retail “Damnation” (2009) and create their own masterpiece titled “Steam Slug” (2009). For the record, “Land of the Dead” and “Damnation” have Metacritic scores of 36 and 41 respectively (considered to be “generally unfavorable reviews”), so they’re both ripe for exploiting…I mean, if that’s your thing.

I don’t know if any of this is actually true, I admit. It is entirely possible that Openoko just happened to make a game in the zombie-genre and then make a game in the steampunk-genre…and both of these bad games have their equally poor twins in the west. So, I’m just poking fun. But allow me to say this: I’ve played some real crap in my time, and while I will endeavor to find some things to admire in “Steam Slug,” (apparently also known  as “SteamPunk Legends”) this is about as low as I’ll sink on the videogame totem pole. Ultimately, “Steam Slug” is a steaming pile of…videogame.

Although the setting seems to imply a rich, interesting backstory, the actual narrative is damn near nonexistent, which to me is a sin punishable by death. Here’s what the small (quite poorly animated) introductory cutscene tells you: At the end of a steampunky  alternate  19th century, a mysterious inventor named Mephistopheles (who has plans on world domination) has created human-machine hybrids. These robot/cyborgs were first used as workers during this alternate industrial revolution, but they eventually rebelled under the direction of their creator and have taken over the city streets (of some unnamed city). These robots are described as “smoking steam monsters with bleeding human brains encased in brass” and they “roam devastated cities, and the skies are blackened with mechanical creatures.” (Terminator with a revisionist historical spin, anyone?) In addition to the two-legged robot types, he has also created very large war-machines–some are walking tripods that tower three stories in the air, and others are large, non-moving fortresses covered with various automatic turrets that you must take down. There is a “Coward General” mentioned who apparently fulfills the wishes of Mephistopheles and guides the various troops against you. He is yet another enemy type (basically a “tall dude”) and often appears at the end of a battle just to make you miserable.

You are a dashing, leather-coat-and-bandana-wearing mercenary, Evan McRyan, who has been hired by a cranky general (I guess he has a name, but whatever…) who doesn’t like you very much (but needs your assistance anyway). Your mission is to defy death and traverse the city streets, fight your foes, and eventually find out who this mysterious Mephistopheles is and deal with him, saving humanity. Oh, and there’s some chick on the radio you carry who tells you what your various missions are, but you are never properly introduced to her, and it doesn’t matter what she says, since this whole affair is as linear as it gets. I won’t spoil the final meeting between McRyan and Mephistopheles (for any masochists thinking about enduring this), but suffice to say, you do find the evil scientist (and his son, Machiavelli! Gasp!), though they are not what you might think (or maybe they are what you might think, actually). After that, the game ends with a ten-second cutscene (after a confusing monologue) of the earth being attacked by giant, skyscraper-sized, massive brain machines on tripod legs with laser beams! Oh no! Actually, it is pretty neat, but completely disconnected (and animated in a much too cartoonish way to be taken seriously). Can’t wait for the sequel. Sorry if I ruined it. Not.

Sound neato? Well, trust me, I am making all of this sound much more appealing than it actually is. I’m not even sure where to start cataloging the negatives of the game, because there are so many. So let’s start with the positives, which will be short.

One shtick of the game is that there are these pod-like structures (they almost look like mechanical teepees pouring out steam) placed throughout the various maps that actually produce your enemies—sort of spitting them out a few at a time. Without destroying the pod, the enemies will endlessly stream out of it. So your ultimate goal is to shoot (and shoot and shoot and shoot) at each of these pods until it explodes. As you do so, of course, it is busy spitting out half-monster-half-robot opponents at you. So, you have to shoot at the dudes who are bum-rushing you at the same time you are trying to make the pod explode. It actually works and is somewhat fun. A few times, I was tempted to simply run past the pod to advance into the map, but in most cases you can’t: The pods produce streams of steam out the sides that kill you instantly when you attempt to run past it. Ah, they thought of everything! Besides these street battles, there are encounters with larger enemies in some arena-like areas—the massive tripod, which shoots missiles at you, and also a series of war machines that are basically turrets that you must run around in circles and blow up (by shooting and shooting and shooting and…). This does break up the monotony a little bit.

The other “interesting” element of the game (not sure I would call it “good” exactly) are the backdrops. The game takes place mostly on the cobblestone streets of this unnamed city, with tightly packed buildings to your left and right, and some little touches like a playground, laundry hanging out to dry, a cul-de-sac here and there. Little wooden barrels are everywhere (and serve no purpose, gameplay-wise) as well as trees (most of which have died due to the pollution spread everywhere by the rampant growth of industry). There is usually only one way to go down this cobblestone street—straight ahead—and none of the buildings can be entered, but the backdrops are unique looking. There is also one chapter that takes place in a cemetery, and another near a dock and bridge. The graphics are serviceable, with one exception: I guess to emphasize the “steam” part of “steampunk,” the developers overuse a bloom lighting effect in many of the maps (at least I think that’s what it is), making everything overly hazy, fuzzy, as if you are watching the game through a Vaseline-smeared lens. Not every map suffers from this, but many of them do. This might be a way for the artists to hide what otherwise might be sub-par graphics, but the effect is way overdone to the point of making a great deal of the game look soupy, vague, sort of suffocating.

And that leads me into the almost endless list of shortcomings on display here. There are maybe five or six weapons—pistol, “Tommy” gun, missile launcher, grenades—and all of them are peashooters, simply put. You don’t feel like you have any real power in your arsenal. The way the character holds the pistol for example, seems like he isn’t even connected to the gun. In fact, McRyan’s hand lowers if you don’t shoot for a while, but if you do decide to shoot, the shot goes off before his hand is completely extended again, so the first shot always hits the ground. Duh. The enemies, as they pile out of their mechanical teepees, simply rush at you in a straight line, so you stand in place and pick them off (while also trying to land as many shots as you can on the pod/teepee itself). I think this would qualify as there being absolutely no AI whatsoever. Every once in a while, one of them will step aside and pick up a cobblestone to throw it at you (yup, that’s their offense), but that’s about what you get here. Later, some of the enemies have machine guns and will attempt to let you have it, but you can simply plow through them. This “line up so I can shoot you” AI behavior was exactly what the zombies did in the other Openoko game I played, “Evil Resistance.” So, I guess the developer gets points for consistency?

Oh, the voiceovers. They are perhaps the most awful thing I have ever heard in my life, ever, ever, ever. It’s not that they are bland, but the disinterested voice actors are attempting to mimic…something. Maybe the voice of McRyan is supposed to sound like he is..a “Western Dude” like a cowboy? Or maybe he’s supposed to sound like a Dirty Harry tough guy? I really don’t know. But what he sounds like is a dude who has Down’s Syndrome. I’m being totally serious. He sounds like someone with a serious speech impediment or brain damage or an alcohol problem. If it were not for the subtitles at the bottom of the screen (which, woefully, are in a funky, 19th-century, industrial-looking font that is exceedingly difficult to read), most of the time, I would have been in the dark (again, not that it matters, and not that what McRyan or his various cohorts say makes sense anyway). It was astonishing the first time I heard the character speak on screen. I laughed and laughed. Unbelievable. Considering this level of ridiculousness, I imagine maybe the game is geared towards younger children who might find the voice quirky and funny. But I even have trouble swallowing that explanation. I think it was just a bizarre misfire…or utter lack of professionalism. This is again one of those games that you wish the developers and publishers would have just kept in the original language and provided English subtitles to read (since bad acting is somehow more easily tolerated in a language other than your own).

The characters themselves are nobodies—not only are they left completely undeveloped through the game, you never really know who they are to start with. This is another reason why maybe I think the game is not meant for an adult audience interested in a narrative? But then again, there is this very adult-like steampunk universe where the game occurs, with an “alternate history” background. And there is one scene in the game where you blow off the head of an enemy point-blank, blood covering the camera lens and blotting everything out. So, then it ends up NOT sounding like a game for kids. Oh, who knows.

There is absolutely no variety in what you do here, which makes me flip-flop again and think this game is geared toward younger children. You simply shoot, shoot, and shoot some more. And even the shooting doesn’t really change much. The enemies themselves are difficult to see—they are monster-like creations that bum-rush you, but the third-person perspective puts them at a distance that makes it difficult to actually discern what they are or what they look like, and the ubiquitous steam everywhere softens the graphics to the point where everything is little more than a blur. Few details of anything can actually be made out. I’ve tried to sharpen up the screenshots here a little so at least you can see a semblance of what the artists were attempting to create here.

One last complaint: Similar to the way “Evil Resistance” was structured, the save points leave a lot to be desired, and perhaps that’s on purpose to add some difficulty to the game. You have a specified number of health kits (and a health bar). You can pick up kits as you use them. If you hit zero, you die and start back at the beginning of the map. The areas you have cleared will still be cleared, so all you have to do is run back to the point where you died and continue fighting. BUT if you die three times, it is game over, and you have to “restart the mission.” Maybe I’m a weakling game-player, and maybe I am spoiled by modern games and their liberal save systems. But I think this system sucks. Yeah, I said it.

Thankfully, the game ran fine without a hitch, which was good. Smooth framerate, and it supported widescreen resolutions (I played it on my 50″ TV at 1920×1080). And the controls worked fine too (and I even used my Xbox 360 controller with the Wireless Receiver for Windows setup; though the game does not natively support a gamepad, with a keyboard emulator like Xpadder [which is what I use] it all worked fine—aiming and steering McRyan was adequate). If I were to have trouble with any of these elements, I would have abandoned the game pronto. But it behaved, so I plowed through it.

Final determination: I guess if you are a steampunk fanatic and you weren’t thoroughly suicidal after playing “Damnation,” then I guess you could give this a shot. (Warning: From presentation to storyline, “Damnation” is head and shoulders above “Steam Slug” in just about every way.) If you want to witness some of the most absolute bizarre voiceovers ever used in a game, this might be another reason to locate and install this one. But for everyone else, you have been warned.

Postscript #1: To make the horrendous voiceovers even worse, the dialogue is laughably bad. One-liners spewed by McRyan (to no one in particular, by the way) include the following golden turds:

What, do I attract violence?

For what you did, I’m going to suck your eyeballs out through your nose.

This is my rifle. This is my gun. This is for fighting. This is for fun! (EDIT: So this game is not for kids after all?)

Great, now you look like my favorite can of peaches. Maybe I’ll open you up with a rusty tin opener.

Pain ties together living flesh and dead metal.

Postscript #2: While strolling gleefully and painfully through “Steam Slug,” I was also cooperatively playing through the “Gears of War 3” campaign with my partner (system-linking our Xboxs together, which I was so glad Epic Games kept this feature in “Gears”—I thought for sure we were going to have to connect to Xbox Live just to coop, but thankfully we didn’t since our internet sucks). Anyway, I noticed two odd similarities. (These similarities don’t change my opinion of “Steam Slug” at all…this is just a mere point of interest). First, just like in Gears, when you use the left trigger on your gamepad (or middle mouse button) to take aim over-the-shoulder in “Steam Slug,” when you release the button/trigger, the camera slowly slides back into traditional third-person perspective, instead of snapping back quickly. These two games almost have this identical slow camera movement. Second, when you use the run function in “Steam Slug,” just like in Gears, the camera tilts slightly downward, the character leans forward while running, and the camera (with a slight fish-eye effect) jiggles ever so slightly back and forth. And just like in Gears, the character is exceedingly difficult to steer while running—running is pretty much meant to be used in a straight line only. I mention these items because it is clear where these developers got some of their inspiration from.  Epic should be flattered…or not.